My hip-hop credentials are pretty solid, I feel like, so I'm just going to go right into this. Nas and Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley made a record together called Distant Relatives. It's been getting near perfect reviews from a bunch of hip-hop websites; I'm not so sure it's perfect, but it is one of the only decent hip-hop albums to come out in a long time. The record is thematically centered around Africa, past and present, and the common ancestry of the human race (like KevDev's Brothers Blood kinda sorta. Probably the first and last time Kevin Devine and Nas will ever appear in the same paragraph). When the record sticks to those themes, it's very good.
Honestly, I have almost no idea what Damien Marley is saying most of the time, but the meaning still comes through. Tracks like "Tribes at War" and "Africa Must Wake Up" are pretty self explanatory; there are a lot of didactic songs on the album, but the album manages to stay away from sounding kitschy or corny. Nas gives a consistent performance across the thirteen tracks, mostly rapping about the general theme of the song. Despite the occasional dig at his unfaithful milkshake-having ex-wife and the child support system ("Strong Will Continue"), Distant Relatives is a mostly positive group of songs. Unity features prominently: The first track, "As We Enter" features both Marley and Nas in a fast paced call and response, showcasing the best of both their abilities. "In His Own Words" is a vow of solidarity despite different religions, and "My Generation," (featuring both a kids choir and Lil' Wayne!) is a call to arms for change.
Distant Relatives is best when it's thematically in line. The songs with the best production are the ones with aspects of all three backgrounds: hip-hop, reggae, and traditional African music). The straight reggae songs are a little too reggae for my tastes, but there aren't too many of them. The record clocks in at thirteen songs in just about an hour. That's a lot of music, but thankfully they've got a lot to say. It's a lyrically and musically sound collection of songs, and it's hard to argue with their intentions. Maybe there's hope for non-trap music hip-hop after all?
Rating: Prittay, prittay good.